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#TimeTravelTuesday: FIBA and NBA Players in the Olympics

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On April 7th, 1989, FIBA made the decision to allow NBA players to compete in Olympic competitions. Prior to this, it was required that all competing FIBA basketball players be amateurs, and in the American basketball system that meant college players.

Following the legislative change by FIBA, the famous “Dream Team” of 1992 ran through the Barcelona Olympics, winning each game by an average of over 43.8 points. The stars and stripes led for nearly 307 minutes of the 320 played, and their largest deficit was an early 4-0 run by Spain (the USA turned it around, and won 122-81).

The involvement of NBA All Pro level talent since the 90s has been sporadic. The 2000 iteration was cemented in history books when, in a relatively close came, Vince Carter rose over Fredrick Weis of France. While some of their games were much closer than the Dream Team’s, they were also a dominant force. Further, future Hall of Famers Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Reggie Miller, and Allen Iverson all withdrew from the team, and left a feeling of “the USA won without even sending their best players.”

2004, that sentiment led to a very young team of NBA players representing the USA (albeit future superstars). Six of the twelve players were 22 or younger. While the future faces of the league were on the team, the ‘04 Olympic team took a beating from Puerto Rico to open group play. After losing to Argentina in the semi-finals, the Americans won bronze in a 104 – 96 win over Lithuania in the third place game.

In the Olympic Games immediately preceding the 1989 FIBA decision, the USA also earned Bronze after losing to the Soviet Union in the semi-finals. ’88 was the first time the United States didn’t appear in the Olympic Gold Medal game, but it felt like there was an excuse… The Americans were forced to send college players like young Mitch Richmond, David Robinson, and Danny Manning. The ’88 American scoring leader was a 23 year old Dan Majerle with 14.1 ppg. The Soviet team that beat them? Arvydas Sabonis, a force in the USSR league that would later dominate Spanish and Italian leagues before finding his way to the NBA, was an “amateur” because, under Soviet government restrictions he did not receive paychecks for playing before the 1988 games. Sabonis, as well as other European league professionals, manhandled Uncle Sam’s college crew. Clearly, if the Soviets were going to find ways to play what were essentially professionals, all things were not equal.

But if 1988 can be explained, what is there to say about 2004?

Simply put: there is none.

The team had two recent NBA MVPs, three players off of the 2003 All Rookie team, 4 players that made all star teams in the previous two seasons, a future Hall of Fame Coach in Larry Brown. The team was missing five players due to family requirements, and three who were exhausted from the NBA season, as well as Kobe Bryant who was stateside and in court rooms. But there were NBA players, and good NBA players… So why wasn’t that enough?

In part, the 1992 team was too good. They inspired the world to play basketball, and took the game to an international level. Manu Ginobili, who led the Argentinian team that knocked out the USA, was 15 watching the Dream team. He watched American hoop stars in awe. Then, he was 27 and in the prime of his career when he dethroned the same red, white, and blue. He was the most prominent name after helping San Antonio win a title in 2003, but he was not the only pro. Carlos Delfino, Pablo Prigioni, Andres Nocioni, Ruben Wolkowyski, and Luis Scola were all NBA players either before or after their 2004 Olympic Gold.

In 2005, immediately following an embarrassing run in the 04 Olympics of Athens, Jerry Colangelo took over the program. USA Basketball became a three year commitment, and the “Redeem Team” began the quest for the 2008 Gold medal in the 2006 FIBA World Championship games. NBA Superstars flocked back to the program, including Chris Paul (23 years old), LeBron James (also 23), Carmelo Anthony (24), Chris Bosh (24), Dwyane Wade (26), Kobe Bryant (29), and a veteran Jason Kidd (35). Legendary Duke coach Mike Kryzewski led the way, and the team publicly let it be known it was Gold medal or bust.

The United States only played one game decided by less than 20 points in the ‘08 games, a 118 – 107 victory in the Gold medal game against a strong Spanish team.

The USA had a similar run, with some of the same headlining names, in 2012. Again, the only game decided by less than 20 was a Gold medal game victory over Spain, 107 – 100.

2016 was a similar story on paper, but there were more close games. In the group stage, the USA only edged out Australia and the backcourt of Patti Mills and Matthew Dellavedova by 10. They had narrow three point wins  against Nikola Jokic, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Serbia and Rudy Gobert, Nic Batum, and Tony Parker, and the rest of the French national team. After a close semi-final against Spain, Kevin Durant led the way for the USA blowout in a second meeting with Serbia for a third consecutive Olympic Gold medal.

Since April 7th, 1989, The United States has just one brief blemish in international competition. Outside of the 2004 debacle, and the international run leading up to it, Team USA has managed to win Gold in six of the seven possible Olympic games. Further, tin those six games, there have only even been a few games that were close… So it stands to reason, with so much in the air surrounding the next 18 months of NBA basketball, the next 18 months of USA  basketball, and the realistic issues there may be with international travel, does the US need to keep showing off its pros?

It stands to reason that the rest of the world is catching up. The Tokyo Olympics, now happening in 2021, will be almost 20 years post Dream Team. Further, with how we watch basketball with modern technology, (so long as they have open WiFi) international basketball fans can find whatever level of basketball they want to watch. Further, the level of play internationally has increased more rapidly than anyone in 1989 could have predicted.

Eight of this years twenty-four all stars hailed from overseas. At the start of the season, the NBA set a record with 108 international players from 38 countries on NBA rosters to start the season, breaking the record of 103 set a year ago. Additionally, there were another 11 international G-Leaguers on 2-way contracts. The number of international players that can play at an NBA level is growing, and looks to only continue exponentially.

Now, that’s not some “hot take” by any stretch of the imagination. The growth of international players, from the aforementioned Sabonis and his contemporaries like Hakeem Olajuwon or Vlade Divac to the modern, young superstars like Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid, is well documented.

The international growth of the game was made possible by the FIBA ruling on April 7th 1989. The rest of the world saw basketball at a “Dream Team level,” and went home and started living out the dream. More than 20 years later, does the international growth caused by the FIBA decision not just allow the best American NBA players to play, but necessitate it?

 Of the 40 finalists for Team USA in the 2020 (now 2021) Olympics, just over half have played in an All Star game. And of them, guys like Chris Paul, Mike Conley, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Dwight Howard are much closer to the end of their careers than the peaks. Then, when you factor in a major injury to Kevin Durant, the way Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James manage their bodies, and Steph Curry’s year of injuries…

Obviously, that every player on Team USA is a blessing in itself. Even with just the non All Stars, that may be enough to make them the “Vegas Favorite.” But, after the group stage, the knockout stage is a bunch of single elimination games. What is to say the USA draws Slovenia in a knockout stage on a day that Luka has another coming out party to 50 points and a win? Or they run into Greece and Giannis on a day he gets hot from 3? The variance in a single elimination knockout style bracket is enough to concern American basketball.

Much like in 2004, it appears the United States may hold off on sending the best players, in their primes, to the Tokyo games next summer. The arrogant say America doesn’t need to, but the realists say they can’t. The next 18 months of NBA basketball are an unknown. If they attempt to finish the current season, and then play a full 82 in the next one, there’s a very real chance players pull out of the 2021 Olympics just from fatigue. That’s 100 NBA games and two playoff runs in roughly 14 months, and the window is only getting shorter. It’s hard to imagine guys like Kawhi and LeBron make two deep Western Conference Playoff runs, and then turn around quickly and play a 10 day tournament in Tokyo. But if Team USA wants a sure deal, they may not have that option. They may have to settle for the best NBA players that didn’t make it to the conference finals, or they may have to settle for guys that are going to need to rest on Olympic practice days.

On this date, 31 years ago… Allowing the NBA players to come play in the Olympics was the trump card. It was the concession that “America has been sending the B-squad, but they really run this game.” Now, sending the best NBA players feels like a necessity… and one that America may not have.

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Is The Brooklyn Nets’ Offense The New High Powered defense? by Chris Allen

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They say offense wins games and defense wins championships, but there’s a new Brooklyn Nets roster that might change this ancient philosophy in sports. The Nets are sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference.

I’ve been watching the revitalized Nets with James Harden’s addition in one of the biggest blockbuster trades this season. With the addition of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and now Harden, the Brooklyn Nets arguably have three of the top 7 most unguardable players in the league. This causes a nightmare for defenses. After all, you can’t double-team anybody because you’re going to leave another prolific scorer open. Blake Griffin’s addition to the roster will make it challenging for defenses to have a scheme other than one on one. 

With their lineup’s construction, no one would be surprised if they got a bucket on every offensive possession. It must be demoralizing from a defensive standpoint to try to do your best to contest a layup from Irving as he can put your best defender on skates. Or try and put an undersized defender on 7’0 Durant because your bigs don’t have the quickness and agility to stay with him. Last but not least, you have to try not to foul Harden, who recently hacked the officiating rule perfecting his step-back three. 

With the focus on those three, how are the rest of your team not subject to being a poster prop for the year’s dunk with DeAndre Jordan and Griffin. 

From a sport psychology standpoint, you can’t go an entire fourth quarter in a close competitive game when every possession they do some lack of a better term “2K Hall of Fame Shit” without losing your competitive edge. Essentially their offense is so good that it puts pressure on the opposition to defend them on the defensive side and attempt to keep up with them on the offensive side, adding more stress to each player on the opposite team to make a play to stay in the game. This allows the Nets to be essentially mediocre on defense, and if they get a stop or create turnovers, you not only lost possession, but you put the ball back into their hands which is what you don’t want to do late in the 4th quarter. 

At this point, the only thing that can stop the Nets is a COVID protocol or injury. If the Nets stay healthy and work together as a team, it’ll be a tough challenge for anybody in the West, let alone in the East, to take down such an offense of powerhouse. With Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni on the sidelines just inflating the offense, even more, this team is dangerous. 

Irving can drop 40 on any night; Harden can get as many four-point plays as he wants, and Durant receives the green light whenever he touches the ball. Even if they miss their shots, they still have pretty solid rebounders in Nicolas Claxton, Jordan, and Griffin to reset the offense. 

Let’s not forget that they still have one of the best three-point shooters in the league, Joe Harris, waiting on defenders to make a mistake the man almost can’t miss. If the Nets make it to the NBA finals, they could threaten the Los Angeles Lakers’ chances of repeating. Then again, I guess there’s only one way to determine if the offense can win you a championship. 

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Five Players In The NBA That Can Finish Their Careers With Greater On-Court Legacies Than LeBron James by @ReelTPJ

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Five players in the league can finish their careers with more extraordinary court legacies than LeBron James. GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, Zion Williamson, Luka Dončić, Ja Morant, and LaMelo Ball. Here’s why:

GOAT for GOAT LeBron can challenge any GOAT from Bill Russell, a pioneer amongst pioneers and leaders amongst leaders. To a GOAT such as Wilt Chamberlain, who stacked the numbers so high, not even James Harden iso’s in a Mike D’Antoni system could catch. To a GOAT such as Michael Jordan, the GOAT OF MY GOATS GOATS. It’s Mike. I’m from Chicago.

Off-the-court legacy, LeBron is tied with Jordan. Jordan is 50+ doing all this. LeBron is still in his 30s. LeBron’s done so much that I think it would be unfair to compare legacies. Michael Jordan is the precursor. So it’s hard to say LeBron can ever be better than him to those that love Mike. LeBron loves Mike.— That futuristic artificial intelligence Virtual Reality game of LeBron vs. MJ will be WILD in 2030.

LeBron’s current challengers, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, can’t catch him. Period. They’re old. They teamed up to beat bro. PLUS health. — Steph is my guy. He’s the only unanimous MVP and probably will be until Zion wins his first ring in 2025.

After Steph, THERE IS nobody good enough heading into their prime to challenge Bron’s legacy ON THE COURT. This era, 2015-2035, will also be the age of technology and the “stat” era. 50 years from now, Bron will be the first of a new generation of GOATS. He’ll be top 5 in every statistical category. Before the True Shooting percentage nerds took over the game, LeBron accumulated a large part of those numbers before the stat era began.

Also, this is the dawn of a new century. Basketball has been around for 130 years at this point. Really in its most proper form since 1970.
So let’s get to why these guys can challenge LeBron’s legacy.

GIANNIS

Giannis is a 2X MVP and a DPOY through 8 seasons in the NBA. His numbers are still on par with last year’s. He continues to shine. BIGGEST QUESTION IS…… CAN HE WIN? I’m not sure. I hope he can. I think Giannis can win 5-7 rings if paired with the right guard. Imagine Ja and GIANNIS! OMG OMG OMG! One can dream, right? Still, Giannis has GOAT potential. He has everything you want in a player; he’s young, built like a horse (I’ve talked to him in person postgame), and he’s building his game out.
He’s a better player than LeBron was at this age. His offensive bag isn’t as big as LeBron, but LeBron isn’t 6’11 and built like Giannis.

ZION WILLIAMSON

ATHLETIC FREAK OF NATURE. LOOK AT THESE STATS OVER THE LAST 9 GAMES!

THIS MAN IS 20 YEARS OLD. This man’s numbers vs. LeBron’s are INSANE! Look at this:

These numbers are insane. Yes, this is an offensive generation, but who’s bodying Zion? Who’s FIGHTING ZION? In what era? WHO?

He made Tristan Thompson look like a child. SMH. And Thompson is a BIG dude who I’ve very rarely seen get abused like that. His play is Shaq-like. Plus, he’s averaging 26 points on 16 shots per game—less than Anthony Edwards. Edwards is averaging 16.8, and Zion’s played 21 games MORE than Anthony. TWENTY-ONE GAMES MORE!

LUKA Dončić

He’s MY SON. LUKKKKKKKKKAAAAAAAAAA! If he can win 3-4 rings, I think he can challenge LeBron’s legacy. He’ll have so many stats behind him. Currently, I think he has to develop his defensive game and learn to shoot and finish games better.

JA MORANT

Ja is the biggest X-Factor in the NBA. BUT he won’t be if he stays with the Memphis Grizzlies. Request a trade and LEAVE JA. LEAVE! No one wants to play for the Grizzlies.

LAMELO BALL

I told all of you, LeBron, and Kobe all in one. He’s only 19 years old! I think he has considerable potential and age for age. It’s a conversation, statistically!

LOOK:

So that’s the list! All legit arguments.

MY BAD: And I know I use to say Ben Simmons could challenge LeBron; he doesn’t have an offensive skillset when it comes to scoring. You have to do everything Bron does plus score to challenge him.

ALL STATS FROM BASKETBALL REFERENCE.

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The Bulls Got Better by Pavy

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Suppose you follow me on Twitter; the war against the Chicago Bulls Twitter is well documented. Yes, I’m from Chicago, but I enjoy being right more than supporting my hometown teams. My main riff started in the Jim Boylen era when Bulls fans told me he was a God-awful coach. My whole point was that even though he wasn’t the best coach, he wasn’t as bad as people think. The talent on the roster just wasn’t up to where it should’ve been, and it didn’t matter who was coaching. That team wasn’t that good.

This season there has been a slight improvement. Primarily because of the play of Zach LaVine. He’s averaging 28.1 points this season, but what is most impressive is his percentages. He’s shooting 52% from the field while shooting 43% from a distance. Hitting the shots that he shoots, which usually have a substantial degree of difficulty, is INSANE efficiency. But then the trade deadline happened, and the Bulls did something that we rarely as an organization see them do. MAKE TRADES.

When I woke up Thursday morning, the group chat was already in shambles. It was at least 20 messages, and I was confused. Then I logged on Twitter to find out Nikola Vučević and Daniel Theis were the Bulls’ newest members. Both players make this team much better than when I laid my head down for some sleep. For one, they have two legitimate All-Stars. Something the Bulls haven’t had since I was 21. For context, I’ll be 30 in less than two months. Also, it shows the team, and most importantly, the fan base, they’re dedicated to winning. No, this move probably won’t put them in the Finals. They still might be a first-round exit, but at least it’s something to be excited about.

It’s been a long road for Bulls fans throughout the Gar Forman and John Paxson era. I honestly believe Derrick Rose getting hurt was the worst thing that could’ve happened, not precisely the roster decision they made. But regardless, it looks like the new regime has a vision, and they aren’t scared to take shots. The Bulls historically don’t trade that often. Especially not mid-season. The most significant mid-season acquisitions I can remember is probably Jalen Rose. All in all, I’m excited about Bulls fans and the city of Chicago to watch actual competitive basketball again.

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